Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Twas The Night Before Navidad......

    Twas the Night Before Navidad
 (My version:  by Terry Coles)

Twas the night before Navidad and all through the land
Not a creature was stirring except my sweat gland

The  stockings were hung on the palm tree with care
As the warm balmy breezes blew through my hair

The monkeys were nestled in trees up way up high
And the jungle was quiet, not a creature did fly

Mama in a bikini with a drink in her hand
And Clyde with a fish pole, a catch would be grand

When out in the water we heard such a clatter
I sprang from my chair to see what was the matter

Away from my chair I flew like a flash
Stepped on a shell and tripped over some trash

The sun on the water sparkled with glow
And the break of the surf looked almost like snow

But what to my wondering eyes did appear
But a boat full of gifts and eight tiny reindeer

I noticed the Captain was chubby and thick
And knew at that moment it must be St. Nick

It tousled and joustled to shore it took aim
As I heard the old fart call out some name

"Jump Dasher, and Dancer, swim Prancer and Vixen
Quick Comet, swim Cupid paddle Donder and Blitzen!"

To the end of the beach it came with a crawl
Now swim away, swim away, swim away all

As sand from the beach when the wind blows does fly
High up to the treetops and gets in my eye

The boat came a shore and slammed into a tree
And a coconut bounced off and landed on me

And just at that moment I heard on the reef
Santa looking for something and shouted “good grief”

He pulled out a bottle and chugged down a beer
Said now I can take on those children I fear

Dressed up in a speedo and flip flops to boot
He said this is Panama? Oh what a hoot!

He called for a taxi the size of a bus
And filled it with toys with out much of a fuss

Then tied up the reindeer under a tree
And jumped in the cab after taking a pee

We heard him yell loud as they drove out of sight
Feliz Navidad to All, Along the Gringo Trail tonight

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas In Panama......

This will be our third Christmas in Panama and the first time we've really taken notice of a local tradition called "nacimientos." The word in Spanish means "birth" or in this case a Nativity scene. Children in nearby homes construct simple crèche's out of twigs tied together and a roof made of palm leaves.  Figures of people and animals are placed inside and on Christmas Eve they put a doll inside to represent the baby Jesus.  At the stroke of midnight they announce the birth of Jesus with fireworks that light up the night sky into the early hours of the morning.  In many homes children are sent to bed early and woken at midnight to open presents from under the tree.  Not all homes display Christmas trees here, but in our neighborhood we see many including lights on the outside of the houses. Live Christmas trees are shipped in from Canada and sold here for $30-$50.  From what our Canadian friends tell us that's more than they sell for in Canada, due to shipping fees.

Saturday night we enjoyed dancing the night away in Coronado, for CASA's Annual Christmas Party.  CASA (Coronado Area Social Association) is a social group of expats living in the beach communities along the Pacific Coast.  Once a year they party in style in a ballroom at the Coronado Golf Resort Complex.  Inside the large ballroom we were treated to air conditioning all night long as we dined on a luxurious buffet, sipped cocktails and boogied to the musical sounds of Poco Loco's Rock & Roll Band. We kicked up our heels with nearly 200 other expats getting the chance to chat with many old friends and make new ones too.  Looking around the room at this vivacious group of attractive people dressed to impress, I realized retirement is not what I expected.  Women in stiletto heels, short dresses, long gowns with prominent cleavage on athletic, fit bodies is something that no one expects from grandmas. 

View of the event
A great Rock and Roll Band!

Yes, We danced

Yesterday our adventures took us to an open air church in the little of village of Rodeo Viejo for a Panamanian style fiesta.  Our young Panamanian Spanish teacher Jasmine has become a valuable source of information of all things local, besides helping us to improve our language skills. A while back she asked us if we'd like to attend a party at her church and pickup a few gifts for local kids from poor families. We agreed to buy for four children, two girls and two boys and said we'd be delighted to attend the fiesta.  After all it would be a good way to give back a little something to the community and give us the opportunity to practice our Spanish too.  I was a little reluctant to attend since I thought it would only be Clyde and I among a bunch of local kids, but I was wrong. Jasmine said about 30 of her gringo students will attend the celebration too. 

Church in Rodeo Viejo
Since we had time to kill before making our way to the fiesta Clyde stopped to fill up the car with gas in the town of San Carlos.  A friend told us about a gas station that typically sells gas for 3 cents less per liter, which comes to about 12 cents less per gallon. So whenever we're nearby we stop and take advantage of the savings.  But we noticed the attendant eating and since it was 12:30 we guessed he was on his lunch break. A security guard came over to us and said, "el esta almorsando," which confirmed he was eating lunch.  Apparently, when the clerk goes to lunch cars can just line up for gas and wait. There was another car that arrived before us for gas and was waiting, but we decided to give up and get gas another time.  By the way in case you're wondering about the price of gas in Panama, the price is around $3.80 a gallon now, but prices are posted in liters.  Remember, all gasoline is imported.

Meanwhile back at the fiesta, we arrived to find a group of expats standing around and a table full of presents.  Jasmine greeted us with a hug and we soon found seats and watched as the party began.  A group of 100 or more children sang songs for us before taking a swing at two piñata's.  The girls had one that looked like a little girl, dressed in pink with blond hair.  The boys had one that looked like a car, both were packed full of candy that splashed out once broken.

piñatas ready to be "beat"

Ready for the piñata!

The girls getting their goodies!

Jasmine came out dressed in a clown costume with two balloons in her backside to create a round rump.  She and another women also donned in a clown costume entertained the kids with skits and humor before handing out the gifts.  As Jasmine called up each child us gringo's picked up our gifts to give to them.  We were thanked with a kiss on the cheek or hug from each grateful child who will enjoy a little something more for the holidays because of us.  Clyde and I picked up gifts for two girls both 14 years old, and two boys ages 4 and 5.

Our Spanish teacher

Never realized how
"shapely" Jasmine is!

After the gift giving we were served a lunch of boiled yucca and beef along with sweet iced tea.  The kids prepared the simple meal with love as their way of giving thanks for our time and money spent to make their holidays a little brighter. Jasmine prepared home-made, sugar free ice cream in coconut and passion fruit for her gringo friends as her Christmas gift to her students.

Young lady getting her present
mostly costume jewelry

What a cutie!

You mean I have to kiss her to
get my present?

Santa's helper with her
Carne and Yucca

Perhaps these special times with local kids are a replacement for the lost moments not spent with our own grandchildren back in the US or Canada? Or maybe just a way to leave a footprint in the sand of this beautiful country called Panama that we chose as our home......along the gringo trail.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Muñeco's Come To Life Again......

During our first holiday season in Panama we noticed these strange, life-like creatures standing along the roadside.  Some resembled political figures, others cartoons, TV personalities or other things that were unrecognizable to us. They are known locally as "Judas Dolls" or "Muñeco's," which simply means "dolls" in Spanish. Officials in western Panama, between the towns of Chame and San Carlos, offer cash prizes for the best dolls, encouraging locals to keep the tradition alive. These dolls represent something we'd rather not see in the new year, a way of purging the past and starting out fresh.  Made from a combination of old clothes, cardboard, coconuts, pillows, straw, banana leaves or other recycled materials, the faces are painted and adorned with details to give them a realistic look.  Before twelve on New Years Eve the dolls are stuffed with fireworks to prepare them for their explosive demise in a midnight bonfire.

In the weeks prior to New Years Eve the dolls stand proudly on display in front of homes along the highway, for all to see.  Judges drive the roads toward the end of December determining which muñeco's are worthy of prizes.  For us gringo's it's a fun, quirky tradition that we enjoy seeing and since we live in Chame, we're right in the heart of the action.

Another perk for Panamanians is the payout of one extra paycheck per year. That means they work 11 months out of the year (since they get one month off for vacation), and then get paid for a 13th month.  The extra paycheck is divided into three and given out at different times of the year. One of those times is right before Christmas, allowing locals to have extra money for holiday shopping. Clyde and I were talking about how great this is, thinking back on hard times when we barely had any money for holiday spending.  How nice it would have been to receive extra money instead of using credit cards for Christmas presents. Panamanian workers are paid only a fraction of what we're used to in the US, but they do have some added perks that aren't offered in our country. 

So as we prepare for the holiday parties, bake cookies with icing that will melt, and keep holiday chocolates in the refrigerator, we realize our lives are a bit different here.  Our holiday outfits include bathing suits and flip flops, pool-side parties with sangria and margaritas, as we melt in the tropical heat, enjoying yet another holiday season.....along the gringo trail.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Paint The House.....Instead Of The Town......

The official start of the Christmas season began this weekend in Panama with the celebration of "Dia de Las Madres,"  or "Mother's Day."  Tied in with the Feast of The Immaculate Conception, the day is celebrated with families visiting Mom's and Grandmas after attending church services together in the mornings. We stopped at Westland Mall in Arriajan last week and noticed the many "ofertas" or sales on gift ideas such as pajamas for $1.99, household items at great prices, slippers and more.  Some of the selection included rice cookers for $9.99, dish sets, crystal salad bowl sets, ceramic platters and other household items for $2.99 to $5.99 just to name a few. And there were several displays of over sized three foot by two foot greetings cards for only 99 cents too.

Sunday we noticed that the bright pink house across the way is now bright green, in the front only. Another common tradition for Panamanians is to paint their house before the holidays so it looks nice and clean when guests arrive. Sometimes the whole exterior of the house is painted if they can afford it, but if not they only paint the front. At least the colors green and pink go together so it won't look too bad if they leave it that way.  But this woman has a houseful of kids with too much time on their hands during summer vacation, which is now, so she might as well put them to work. This time of year paint goes on sale at the local stores who are well aware of the local tradition. But we painted the outside of our house last year during the dry season, so we're good to go for now.

The House Across The Street From Ours. 
These Are The Kids That Live There Painting

Clyde wanted to make a trip into Panama City yesterday to pick something at a music store located in Albrook Mall. We didn't realize that Monday was also a holiday, apparently part of the long Mother's Day weekend. The good news is that the traffic in the city was very light since many folks were up this way visiting Mama.  The bad news is that those that didn't leave the city were in the malls doing Christmas shopping.  The mall was packed with shoppers and the background chatter was so loud we could barely hear the Christmas music that filled the air.  We picked up a few things and got out of there as quickly as possible. Clyde had a head cold sinus thing last week and this week is my turn.  So I really didn't feel like shopping at all, even less feeling lousy.

A Display At Westland Mall Sponsored By A Cell Phone Provider.
And As Simple As The Locals Live, Many Have Expensive Cell Phones And Blackberries.

Man Playing Instrument Inside Mall

Girl Selling DVD's of what man is playing

Sentence Structure Is Backwards In Spanish So North Pole Is Too!

More Mall Displays

We arrived home to find a brown horse grazing on the grass in front of our property.  He was tied under a shady tree and perhaps was a mode of transportation for someone visiting the area? Since the road in front of our house is a mix of gravel, dirt and grass he had plenty to nibble on, and less for Clyde to mow next time around.

A Local Mode Of Transport Parked Outside Of Our Property, Across The Street

Grazing On The Grass And Shrubs

Last Saturday we spent the day with some blog followers visiting from Colorado and New Jersey. Hugo and his wife Cynthia have been following our adventures through my blog from way back and planning a move to Panama from Colorado in the near future. Along with them was Hugo's niece Sarah and her husband Tom, a younger couple from New Jersey tired of the rat race and also looking for a less expensive, more laid back lifestyle. We invited them all along to a CASA (Coronado Area Social Association) Wine & Cheese Social on Saturday afternoon at Louise's bohio. There they had the opportunity to pick the brains of many other expats who have already made the move here.  They found out the good and bad about living in Panama and left with some realistic expectations about their future plans. We ended the night on Saturday chatting more with the two couples over dinner at a local restaurant. We look forward to keeping in touch and seeing them all again in the future.

Our Christmas Tree And Little Village

Today just taking it easy trying to get over this cold.  We put up the Christmas tree on Sunday and decorated it, but the rest of the boxes are just sitting around waiting for me to finish decorating.  But there's always manaña when things can get done in Panama.....along the gringo trail.

Monday, December 2, 2013

A Star Is Born.....or not.....

Several months ago when we heard about a movie being made in Panama City we jumped at the chance to sign up as "extras."  After all we don't work and have plenty of time for fun and adventure, so why not take a chance and perhaps we'll show up in the movie for a second or two. Clyde quickly found out the location of the casting office and the next day we set out for stardom. Located in the front of a hotel in the city we filled out paperwork that included our height, weight and clothing sizes, and they took head shots and full body shots. We were each instructed on how to sign into the casting company's website and were told they'd call us when they needed us. A few weeks later Clyde received the first call that they had a part for him in the movie and to come in for a wardrobe fitting. He left early one morning for the 90-minute commute and spent hours sitting around waiting to be fitted in a 70's outfit, much like the ones he wore in high school. At the end of his five hour day he was give a crisp, new $10 bill in an envelope for his days pay.  Of course this didn't even pay for the gas, but we're not in it for the money just the experience.

The movie is "Hands of Stone" the story of Panamanian boxer Roberto Duran.  Born on June 16, 1951 he grew up in the slums of El Chorrillo, in Panama City and started boxing when he was only 8 years old. He made his first professional debut at the age of 16, and by the time he retired at age 50, he was regarded as one of the greatest boxers of all time.  A versatile brawler in the ring he was nicknamed "manos de piedra," Spanish for "hands of stone" during his career. The movie Hands of Stone follows his life and successful boxing career until he retired at the age of 50.  Roberto Duran still lives in Panama City where he owns a bar/restaurant called La Tasca de Duran in El Cangrejo.

The movie boasts an all-star casts which includes: Singer Raymond Usher who plays Sugar Ray Leonard; Roberto Duran is played by Venezuelan actor Edgar Ramirez; and Roberto Di Nero plays Ray Arcel, Leonard's trainer.  Also on the list are:  Ellen Barkin as Arcel's wife, Drena Di Nero's (daughter of Robert), Ruben Blades, and many more well-known talents. Our Canadian friend Phil Dankiw was in the right place at the right time and was snagged for the role of the announcer in the Montreal fight. He spent a week on the movie set rubbing elbows with the big shots and made a little money along with a lifetime of memories for his efforts.

As for us, our hopes of being discovered flat-lined as soon as we realized what they expected from the extras. The scene that Clyde was cast in was supposed to be filmed in late October, but when he called them he was told, "not yet."  It seems like that scene went on without him, but considering that he was the only gringo among a room of tanned skinned people, perhaps he just didn't fit the part. Another night they called for me around 8pm and told me to be in the city at 6am the following day.  I was instructed to wear comfortable clothing and bring sun screen since I'd be outside near the pool for a long day.  About five minutes later the phone rang again and the women said, "never mind, we're not filming that scene tomorrow. We'll call you another time." 

Our friends and acquaintances, other expats that live here were called for to be extras and many posted their experiences on social media like Facebook. They worked 12-15 hour days in the hot sun standing around waiting for scenes to be filmed.  Other's started their day at 3pm and worked till the wee hours of the morning, also 15 hours or more. And payment for their services was usually around $40 per day. 

As the months went on and Clyde and I were never called I realized that just maybe this was meant to be.  I really didn't cherish the idea of being stuck someplace with no way out, sitting around sweating for many hours at a time with a bunch of strangers who didn't speak English.  Originally when we signed up I thought it would be fun IF Clyde and I could go together and maybe spend a day there filming.  It would be fun to see an actual movie set and see how things are done.

Then on Friday night a call came in asking Clyde if he could be in Panama City for filming from Sunday through Thursday of this week? He apologized and said he wasn't available for those days in order to get out of it.  The casting assistant on the phone then asked, "well can you just do it for one day?"  The man went onto say, "it will only take about FIVE hours." So Clyde put down the phone and asked me if I'd like to do just one day for kicks?  I agreed and he suggested to the man on the phone that he bring me along, since we did both registered with the casting company. The man agreed and we were about to have another adventure here in Panama.  He told us to meet at the Hotel Miramar in the city at 10 am on Sunday.

We left the house around 7 ish on Sunday morning, just in case we hit traffic along the way so we wouldn't be late. As soon as we crossed the Bridge of the Americas and attempted to take the turn we wanted, we noticed the road was closed due to a road race.  Runners could be seen everywhere as well as parked cars of spectators along the route. We had to take a detour and eventually managed to make our way to the Miramar.  The girl at the front desk knew nothing about the "extras" meeting there.  And we were told to park at a nearby building's parking lot which ended up being closed, and likewise the receptionist knew nothing about this arrangement for parking. We drove around some more until we found a spot on the street, since we were early walking a bit was not an issue.

Once inside the Miramar we found bathrooms and sat and waited for someone to show up.  Ten o'clock came and we still didn't see any large group of people.  Clyde walked around outside and noticed three buses in the front parking lot.  He asked the driver, "where does this bus go?"  The driver said, "Howard AFB," and left it at that.  Little did we know that the filming was to be done at the old Howard AFB that is now called Panama Pacifico, a housing and office complex. Once we finally figured out those were our buses we got in the line and headed to some unknown location. The bus traveled about 20-minutes and dropped us off in what looked like the middle of no where. From this point it was a mess of going from one line to the other like a herd of cattle, squashed among hundreds of sweaty, smelly people. It was a combination of gringo's and Panamanians, many of whom had done other days of filming and come back for more. 

On the line we started chatting with a young girl from England and an English speaking man from Brazil. Both had done other days of filming and told us to expect at least a 10-12 hour day.  We explained that we were told this was only a "five hour shoot," to which they both chuckled and said, "we don't think so."  And we were about to find out just how right on they were.

From the registration line which took about an hour we went to the next line which was out in the hot sun. We were sent inside a gymnasium where we checked in our personal items in the "paqueteria," a sort of coat check in Panama.  From there we were told to go pick up our boxed lunch, which consisted of Spanish style rice with minuscule bits of vegetables and meat in it, along with a piece of cooked plantain and a one-bite piece of cake. To the side was either an apple or banana and ice water.  The food was pretty lousy but it was all we had and we ate every bite, not knowing when we'd get fed again, if ever. Our "mess hall" was a white tent filled with plastic white chairs and white bags that held the pre-prepared food boxes.  It looked more like a setup for an outdoor wedding than a place to eat lunch but it worked for us.

Our Wonderful Lunch

After lunch the fun began as we went to wardrobe to be fitted with outfits from the 70's and 80's.  Standing around a hot gym I was a sweaty mess and my clothes were stuck to my body.  Although there was a partial obstruction keeping the naked women from being seen by the men, it was pretty easy for them to see us undressing. One of the wardrobe ladies picked out an outfit for me which happened to fit perfectly and then I picked out red, chunky heeled, wedge sling back shoes to match. The dress was a lightweight black, long dress with a whimsical, random pattern of colorful veggies on it. I was thankful that she gave me something with short sleeves since it was sweltering in the place.  Other women were fitted with 70's style pant suits, long sleeved shirts with blazers and glitzy polyester dresses.  Many men were fitted with suits and ties so Clyde was happy that he was given a short sleeved shirt and polyester pants. It was as if we were transported back to our days of youth seeing people walking around with Afro's and bell bottom pants, culottes, halters, neon, wild patterns and big wedgie heels.

Terry, fresh out of "wardrobe"

Clyde with his polyester bells and
Wide collar shirt with no buttons

Next stop was hair and makeup where a male cosmetologist pinned back my hair using bobby pins, braided it and twisted it up into a messy bun.  He teased the ends that protruded and gave me a healthy dose of hair spray to keep it all in place. The makeup artist gave me a light dusting of makeup, lots of powder and eye shadow and lipstick to match.  Clyde's hair was combed over to one side and sprayed which he says is the way he wore it back in high school, and yes that was in the 70's.

Terry after Makeup and Hair done

Clyde with hair combed, sprayed
and blow dried like the seventies

Since we signed a contract on which we agreed to not take pictures of the actors or the set, we were only able to take photos of ourselves and the area outside of the set. I'm probably not even supposed to be talking about the movie behind the scenes, but here's hoping  that no Hollywood big-wigs stumble up this blog. So since we couldn't take any pictures we borrowed them from the "Hands of Stone" the movie, Facebook page.

From the gym we were lead into another line to a building that looked like an old hangar for planes, back in the day when the air force base was operational. We went in through a side door, walked through a series of narrow hallways with uneven cement pavement, and landed in a smoke filled room with a stage in the middle. The stage of course was a boxing arena, dressed in red, white and blue with bright beams of lights shining down from above.  A nearby smoke machine kept the room filled with billowy smoke, creating an eeary yet cool look that once again took us back to the days of smoke filled rooms.  They seemed to be placing the gringos in the front row since this scene was set in the US, and the darker people in the next rows.

The Set for the Louisiana Fight

More extras piled into the room as the hours went on, and eventually the director came in to give us some direction. Someone went around handing out American flags and small posters that announced the event we were about to witness.  The day was Tuesday, November 25, 1980 and the place was the Louisiana Super Dome in New Orleans. The fight was the World Welterweight Championship between Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran. Finally we knew where we were and what scene we were about to see filmed.  This was the famous fight where Duran walked away and surrendered indicating to the referee that he wanted, "no mas," or "no more" in Spanish.

Yes This Is What I Had To Look At, Right In Front Of Me!
Usher As Sugar Ray Leonard
The director began moving people around the room, positioning some above the doorway and lining up others to the side of the doorway, almost like a welcoming committee.  Picture if you will a stadium where the players enter through the side, with bleachers above and on both sides.  They lined us up and told us to look directly at the actor as he walked by, while we screamed, clapped and welcomed Sugar Ray Leonard into the arena.  Usher appeared just a few feet away from us smiling and making eye contact with the crowd. He wore shorts that said "Roberto Duran" on them and stood there as they wrapped his hands and put the boxing gloves on him.  His body was a picture of perfection, since he had to lose weight and bulk up big time for the role. I could almost taste his chocolate skin he was so close.  The director positioned young, black security guards in front of us as if to block the crowd from touching the boxer. Another women and myself joked with the cute, young Panamanian man blocking part of our view.  I offered him back rubs and threatened to tickle him to get him out of our way.  He laughed at our silliness and eventually surprised me by saying something in English.  Little did I know he was listening to our joking all along.

After five takes of Sugar Ray entering the arena which took hours, we were finally allowed to sit back down. By now my feet were killing me and I was in need of some water. Thankfully, the staff did provide us with ample amounts of water through the day and night.  Extras were moved around again putting a bunch of black women with voo doo dolls together to catch them on camera.  As the crowds chanted USA the women held up the dolls and poked them with pins, symbolizing that they wanted Duran to lose to American Sugar Ray Leonard.  Various fight scenes were filmed as we were instructed to stand, clap, sit, cheer and yell for hours and hours.  We waved our American flags in the air along with posters and the director kept telling us he needed more enthusiasm.  The smoke machines pumped in a humid mist of smoke that seemed to make the room even hotter, as the sweat dripped down our bodies.  Makeup artists came around to blot our skin and brush on more powder. One women even fixed the neck of my dress when she noticed my bra strap sticking out.

Official Souvenir Poster That We Waved During Filming

Our five hour day turned into night, and then into the early hours of the morning.  We were fed a boxed dinner of white rice, beans, a pork chop, cookies, another bite of cake, iced tea and coffee.  Back in the arena we noticed a different presence on stage.  It was the actor Edgar Ramirez who plays Roberto Duran along with his stunt double. A few more fight scenes were filmed and then Usher and his stunt double appeared.  We now had FOUR hunky, hard bodied, young guys on stage that were continually sprayed down with water to make them glisten. The choreography of the fight scenes went on for hours and hours and the later it got the harder it was to get excited about cheering and screaming, but we did as we were told. I longed for coffee, coke or anything with caffeine to re-energize me.  Many of the extras were napping in between scenes and would wake up to cheer on the boxers then nod off again, almost falling off their chairs.

Word got around that the director wanted everyone there until 2am, but it was around 12:45 when they finally called it a wrap. But our day was far from over as we still had to wait on lines to undress, find our clothes in the wardrobe department, wait in line to get paid our $40 each for our days pay, and pick up our belongings that we checked it.  They handed out pieces of ham sandwiches on white bread while waiting on one of the lines.  Next we made it to the line for the buses back to the hotel which is where this day began.  The bus left the base around 1:15 and we made it back to the hotel parking lot, then had to walk to our car.  It was close to 2am when we left the city and made it home by 3 since there was no traffic on the roads at that hour.  So our five hour filming turned into a 16 hour day plus about four hours of travel time.  Some of our time on the film set was fascinating and some of it was miserable.  But at least we had the experience of being extras on a major, Hollywood film set.....along the gringo trail.

Life In Portugal....At A Snails Pace....

Yesterday was just another day in Portugal when my dear husband Clyde said he was going to run to the pharmacy for a few things. Time passed...